19 Apr 2021

The Seedbed Psalter

While the singing of metrical Psalms is often associated with the Reformed tradition, Christians in other traditions are making an effort to recover psalm-singing in their own churches. One such effort is the Seedbed Psalter, which comes out of the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. Julie Tennent and her husband Timothy are the principal compilers of this collection. Julie is an organist, pianist, and composer. Timothy is president of Asbury Theological Seminary, the largest North American seminary standing in the Wesleyan tradition. Julie has done the bulk of the work connected with the Seedbed Psalter.

The genius of the Seedbed Psalter is that, while it does come in a hard copy volume (shown at right), it is largely an online resource enabling the user to choose amongst a variety of texts and settings covering all 150 Psalms. Right on the front page we read the following:

15 Apr 2021

My Rock and my salvation, 2: Coverdale and the Vulgate

Miles Coverdale
In my last post I examined all the uses in the Psalms of the metaphor rock to refer to God, comparing a standard English translation (RSV) with a recent English translation of the Septuagint (LXX) (NET). As it turns out, Miles Coverdale's 16th-century translation of the Psalms in the Book of Common Prayer does virtually the same thing, with one exception. A little digging reveals that Coverdale based his translation on the Latin Vulgate then in use in those churches in communion with Rome. 

The Vulgate appears to follow the LXX's skittishness in referring to God as Rock, but Augustine insists that Jerome translated his Latin Old Testament directly from the Hebrew. Nevertheless, Jerome's initial translation of the Psalms was from the LXX. Could there have been a Hebrew version of the Psalms now lost to us that formed the basis of both LXX and Vulgate versions? Might this Hebrew version have already shunned the rock metaphor? I won't venture a guess, as I am not especially competent to do so. But I will point out that my personal copy of the Latin Vulgate Bible has two columns for the Psalms: one for the traditional Clementine Vulgate and the other for a newer Latin translation authorized by Pope Pius XII in 1945, the latter of which recovers the rock metaphors for God. Oddly enough, Coverdale's translation does assert that "the Lord is my stony rock" in Psalm 18:1, but that is the single exception.

14 Apr 2021

My Rock and my salvation: the Septuagint's skittishness

One of the peculiar features of the Greek Septuagint version of the Old Testament (LXX) is the translators' reluctance to use the metaphor of rock to refer to God. There appears to be no scholarly consensus as to why this is, although there are plausible explanations. Perhaps the Alexandrian Jews had ceased to use these metaphors as they read aloud the text, much as post-exilic Jews were substituting Adonai (LORD) whenever they saw the divine name for God, YHWH. Living amongst pagans, Alexandrian Jews might have been especially sensitive about language used for God so as not inadvertently to tempt their neighbours into idolatry. When I mentioned this peculiarity of the LXX to my late father, who grew up speaking Greek in Cyprus and had studied Koine Greek, without missing a beat he responded that this was because the idols of the pagans were made of stone, which made the rock metaphor off limits to believers. I cannot, of course, judge the validity of his claim, but I assume this reflects teaching in the Orthodox Church in which he grew up.

13 Apr 2021

Watts' quirky paraphrases

One of the difficulties of metrical psalmody is that, as the text becomes more literal, its expression becomes less straightforward and downright awkward. Sternhold & Hopkins, Tate & Brady, and the 1650 Scottish Psalter are examples of this phenomenon. The irony is that this apparent literal rendering sacrifices not only art but also comprehensibility, the latter of which, of course, is the whole point of a good translation. This explains why Isaac Watts' psalm paraphrases became so popular in their day. People in the pews were happy finally to sing something they could understand.

However, Watts was notorious for importing into his paraphrases things absent from the original texts. For the most part this consisted of his explicit mention of Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the messianic Psalms. The most famous example of this is probably his paraphrase of Psalm 72: Jesus Shall Reign, Where'r the Sun. But a member of the Lovers of Metrical Psalmody Facebook group alerted us to another quirky paraphrase that brings out, not a messianic emphasis, but a nationalist one! Here is Watts' version of Psalm 67:

12 Apr 2021

New Psalter: Psalms for the Church

After a dearth of psalm-singing in Protestant churches for some two centuries, more denominations than ever are producing sung psalters for their congregations. However, it is unusual for a single congregation to produce a complete metrical psalter for its members. One of these is Cantus Christi 2020, which I reviewed last year, the work of Christ Church, Moscow, Idaho. The most recent is New Psalter: Psalms for the Church, compiled by Grace Music, the music ministry of Grace Immanuel Bible Church in Jupiter, Florida, USA. I am unable to find membership statistics, but, judging from the number of staff the church employs and its ability to create its own sung psalter, I assume it is a fairly large congregation. Furthermore, few churches would be able to support a rhythm band, an orchestra, three voice choirs, and a handbell choir. The congregation is nearly a century old and started out as a Methodist church, although it is now an independent congregation.

6 Apr 2021

Seeing Christ in the Shape of the Psalms

The Gospel Coalition has just published this article by an Irish biblical scholar named Davy Ellison: Seeing Christ in the Shape of the Psalms. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Luke 24 arguably contains the greatest Bible study ever. Jesus explains how the prophets spoke of him and how everything written about him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled (Luke 24:25–27, 44). (“Psalms” here most likely refers to Scripture’s poetry and wisdom literature). Nevertheless, the point is clear throughout Luke 24—in Jesus’s mind, the 150-part Psalter clearly testifies to him.

But we can be more specific about the Psalter. There is a growing consensus in Psalms scholarship that the Psalter has an intentional shape—that editors and compilers arranged the individual psalms in the order we have them for a particular purpose.

I want to give a glimpse of the Psalter’s five books, and in doing so show how the overall shape encourages its readers to hope for a new Davidic king. In doing so, it does exactly what Jesus says it did—it preaches him.

Read the entire article here.

The decline of psalm-singing: the rosary, revisited

Ten years ago I published a post about how the rise of the rosary in the western church paralleled a decline in praying through the biblical Psalter: The decline of psalm-singing: the rosary. Here is more on the subject: Rosary since Vatican II. One would have thought that the Second Vatican Council might undertake to recover the discipline of praying through the Psalms in preference to the endless repetitions of the rosary that were developed as a substitute to accommodate the illiterate. Assuming the accuracy of this article, the Council appears largely to have ignored the rosary, which is unknown in the eastern churches and developed quite late in the west.

What does the Bible have to say? Well, obviously it makes no mention of a rosary, but it does contain the 150 Psalms, which constitute the prayer book of God's people. I strongly believe that the Psalms, along with other biblical canticles from both Old and New Testaments, must take precedence over other post-biblical hymns in our liturgies, as well as in our daily personal prayers.

30 Mar 2021

Concert 'Le psautier huguenot' par la Mission Timothée

This concert was put on three years ago by Mission Timothée to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation. Shortly thereafter it was posted here: Concert "Le psautier huguenot" par la Mission Timothée.

Here is a directory of the songs sung, including nine of the Genevan Psalms:

29 Mar 2021

The Psalter According to the Seventy of Saint David the Prophet and King

Several years ago I acquired a copy of The Psalter According to the Seventy of Saint David the Prophet and King, a lengthy title describing an English translation from the Greek Septuagint translation of the Psalter for liturgical use. Published in 2007, it was originally released in 1974 and is available in a newer edition also containing the Nine Odes familiar to Orthodox Christians.

The Septuagint was the first translation of what we call the Old Testament into a foreign language, in this case Greek. The Septuagint, often abbreviated to LXX, would have a massive influence among Jews in the Hellenistic world in the centuries before Christ and among Christians, beginning with the apostles themselves. When the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, virtually all such quotations are from the LXX, which sometimes varies from our extant Hebrew texts.

27 Mar 2021

Third Mode Melody, by Thomas Tallis

I recorded this last year and have just posted it on my YouTube channel: Third Mode Melody, by Thomas Tallis. The tune is from Archbishop Matthew Parker's Psalter of 1567 and was originally a setting for Psalm 2. This tune became the basis for Ralph Vaughan Williams' transcendently beautiful Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) and Fisher Tull's Sketches on a Tudor Psalm (1971). It is in the phrygian mode, one of the church modes, which means that on the white piano keys one would begin at E and end at E an octave higher without using the black keys. The melody is sometimes called the THIRD TUNE, because it was the third of nine in Parker's collection. It's also called THIRD MODE MELODY, because the phrygian mode is the third, if one begins with the ionian and dorian modes. I believe this simple tune is one of the most haunting pieces of music ever written.

In the Christian Reformed Church's grey Psalter Hymnal David J. Diephouse's versified text for Psalm 62 is set to this tune. In Cantus Christi the 1912 Psalter's text for Psalm 63 is set to this tune. 

I am still learning and hope eventually to be able to produce more professional-looking and sounding videos. In particular, you will need to increase the volume a bit to hear this.

26 Mar 2021

Sing the 'Mean' Psalms

We keep returning to the imprecatory Psalms, as various readers have articulated their own approaches to the "problem" they present for liturgical use. Now Peter Leithart weighs in with the following post at First Things: Sing the "Mean" Psalms. An excerpt:

Singing the “mean” psalms is thus part of the church’s mission. These psalms arouse a hunger and thirst for justice, as we take up the prayers of the destitute as our own. They expand the scope of our prayers. We may not be under threat, but these psalms keep before us the daily dangers of persecuted brothers and sisters. Imprecatory psalms ground us in the real world, counteracting our instinct for over-spiritualized, anodyne, Pollyannaish piety. They’re a form of church discipline, as we ask Jesus to uproot liars and predators from his field, the church.

In the course of the article, Leithart cites my friend Trevor Laurence, who has published my own writings at Cateclesia Forum, which just yesterday posted this: The Virtual Illusion: Social Media’s Uneasy Relationship with Real Community.

25 Mar 2021

Psalm 150, De L' Estocart

The following performance of Genevan Psalm 150 uses the arrangement of Paschale de L'Estocart and my own English text, albeit an earlier form of the text before I revised the last two lines of the second stanza.

A lovely performance indeed. Unfortunately, the person who made the recording, Stephanie Martin, neglected to credit the author of the text. I contacted her several years ago and asked her to do so, but she obviously did not, not even on her YouTube channel. Perhaps the next step is to contact Warner Chappel Production Music, which published the recording.

23 Mar 2021

Benjamin Williams, Book of Psalms

Google Books has posted a copy of Benjamin Williams' Book of Psalms as Translated, Paraphrased, or Imitated by some of the most eminent English Poets, which include Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady, whose "New Version" Psalter was published in 1696, and the great hymn writer Isaac Watts. This scanned volume was published in 1781 in Salisbury, England, and even includes the price of four shillings.

What is notable about this volume is a preface by the editor titled, "A Dissertation on Scripture Imprecations," undertaking to grapple with the darker texts in which the psalmist calls God's wrath down on his enemies. Williams takes a quite different approach to what I have written here: GOD AS JUDGE: PRAYING THE IMPRECATORY PSALMS. He believes that the imprecations in the Psalms are largely the work of faulty translators of the original Hebrew text, in which the imperative mood is routinely substituted for the future tense. The original authors were simply predicting what would happen to the wicked rather than wishing it upon them. I am no expert in Hebrew, but given that this was written nearly two and a half centuries ago and that no credible biblical scholars that I am aware of seem to have adopted this interpretation since then, we are probably justified in viewing this as an interesting example of someone struggling with texts that made him uncomfortable.

Not surprisingly, then, Williams used Watts' abbreviated and christological versification of Psalm 109, omitting the lengthy imprecations altogether and ending thus:

Their Malice rag'd without a Cause,
Yet with his dying Breath
He pray'd for Murd'rers on his Cross,
And blest his Foes in Death.

Let not his bright Example shine
In vain before our Eyes;
May we like him to Peace incline,
And love our Enemies.

15 Mar 2021

Genevan Psalter: lecture and performance

We badly need a translation from Hungarian of what looks to have been a fantastic lecture: Dr. Vas Bence: Genfi zsoltárok - Kórus- és lantfeldolgozások a XVI. században. Translation: Dr. Bence Vas: Geneva Psalms - Choral and Lute arrangements in the 16th century. Even if you cannot understand Hungarian, you can still enjoy the performances of Psalms 6, 5, 143, 77, 40, and 80 for choir, vocal solo, and guitar.

12 Mar 2021

David R. Erb: Psalm 43

During a visit to New Saint Andrews College in 2018, I was privileged to meet and spend time with musician and composer David R. Erb, who writes through-composed renditions of the Psalms. Here is his version of Psalm 43:

10 Mar 2021

Howard Green: Psalm 1

Here is another beautiful rendition of the first Psalm: Blessed is the man. Oddly, it ends on the fifth rather than the tonic.

9 Mar 2021

Kohlhase's Psalm 48

Here is Karl Kohlhase's version of Psalm 48:

25 Feb 2021

Psalms 27 and 82: Nathan George

Nathan George again, performing Psalms 27 and 82:

24 Feb 2021

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

The Genevan Psalm tunes have sometimes been paired with other biblical texts. A particularly familiar such pairing, often sung during Advent, is Comfort, Comfort Ye My People, a versification of the first verses of Isaiah 40 set to the tune for Psalm 42. This is also sung by Nathan George and family and was posted in December of last year. This is one of those remote pandemic recordings with instrumentalists located in different parts of the world.